A good name is to be more desired than great wealth ~Psalms 22:1 (NASB)
It’s Sunday afternoon, and our son’s dog is dancing in the kitchen because two of her favorite people are rolling up to our door. It takes a bit for them to get out of the car and up the sidewalk. Jim Soyk Sr. hunches over his walker as he concentrates on keeping up with his feet. His wife Juanita directs him from behind while with a firm grasp. Two halves of a dynamic duo have just entered our house, and our world has come alive.
Jim grew up in abject poverty in Wisconsin, the second son of a drunken carpenter and his sweet wife. His father both abused and neglected the family, and Jim grew up long before his time. As a child, he worked to support his mom and sisters while his dad cavorted around the community bars. As a young man, he defended his mother from his father. In school, he learned to fight the bullies that mocked his ragged clothes.
His father taught him to be tough. His mother taught him to be gentle.
But the hunger and the hardships and the rags he wore would not define this boy as he grew to manhood. Although he had every reason in the world to be a thug, James Neil Soyk, Sr. grew to be a gentle giant. Early in life he displayed a keen intellect and a deep interest in electronics. He escaped the harsh life of Wisconsin by enlisting in the Navy and earning an engineer’s license. While in the Navy he met and married a beautiful Southern girl named Opal. Together they had two children, Pam and Jim Soyk, Jr.
After the Navy, Jim pursued a career in broadcasting, a choice that resulted in a nomadic lifestyle during the early years for the family. When they discovered the Lewis-Clark Valley, though, they felt that they had finally found “home.” Here Jim quickly became a public figure. His ease before audiences and quick wit earned him many appearances. He was a popular emcee at events and as a disc jockey for a local radio station. He was especially beloved as the character “Auntie Maude,” the cantankerous elderly “lady” that dispensed her wisdom to audiences in local venues.
Life would deal him more harsh blows.
He nearly died in a car accident in 1967. As the airwaves were alive with news of a six-day-war in Israel, Jim fought for his life in the hospital. He finally returned home, thin and pallid from his injuries and the hepatitis he contracted from the blood transfusions he received. With his customary humor, he told people he was the only person he knew who had a gall bladder removed by a Rambler.
Jim became a believer in the Lord Jesus in the mid-1970’s, radically changing the course of his life. He began to understand the Father he had never known, the one who had preserved him through his dad’s beatings, through the starving times, and through a devastating car accident. This knowledge would empower him to extend grace and forgiveness to his earthly father. It would also bring his entire family to a saving knowledge of Christ.
Then, in 1989, Opal suffered a series of strokes. Jim became her caregiver until it was physically impossible to keep her at home. In 1994, she joined her Lord.
Then along came “Janey.”
This lovely and vivacious lady suffered much loss of her own before meeting Jim. She was the eleventh child of thirteen in her family. Her father died when she was six years old, and the younger children were raised by her mother and her second oldest brother.
Her mother cleaned rooms, took in laundry, and sold her homemade tortillas to make ends meet. One of Juanita’s brothers worked at the nearby airport before he went to school to earn some money.
Tragedy struck her life once again during a rafting trip with friends on the Snake River. The raft unexpectedly got caught in an eddy, dumping Juanita and a friend into the water. Juanita nearly drowned but made it out. Her friend died.
Later, her first marriage ended in a painful divorce. Forced to start a new and unplanned life on her own, she earned her general equivalency diploma, her certificate as a nursing assistant, and an associate’s degree in medical terminology.
Separately, Jim and Juanita had learned to conquer adversity. Together, they would find new strength and a new calling.
They were married on Christmas Day in 1994, blending two lives and two families. They served in local politics, Jim as county commissioner and Juanita as election judge and head of the Republican ladies’ committee.
A New Calling
In 2002, they answered the call to open the doors of a church that had long been closed. The Leland Methodist Church had once housed a vibrant membership, but when Leland died as a town, the church had finally been forced to close its doors. It had been silent for about thirty years when Jim and Juanita took on the arduous task of cleaning it up and building a new congregation.
The church’s exterior siding was faded, and its exquisite stained glass windows sagged in places, but in September of 2002, one hundred people crowded its sanctuary to celebrate the opening of Leland Pioneer Community Church. Once again the sound of praise filled the air as the gentle giant stood in the pulpit and wept with joy.
For fifteen years, Jim and Juanita served their Leland neighbors, their families, and the surrounding communities with generosity, laughter, and plenty of Juanita’s special salsa. Their loyalty to those they love has been as inspiring as their determination. It was often a lonely journey as they soldiered on through personal heartache and physical ailments. They kept the church doors open through lean times and good times, and only stepped down when Jim’s health became too fragile to continue on.
The church has been sold, but the doors remain open, a testament to the witness the Soyks have left behind. Jim and Juanita have moved to Lewiston to be closer to family and healthcare. But much of their hearts remain in the communities they have loved.
Today, on September 26, Jim Soyk is eighty-five years old.
Today, I celebrate all that he and Juanita are to those whose lives have been touched by them. Jim is my precious dad, and Juanita is my beloved step-mother. Today, I wanted you to know what I know. I wanted you to know that their smiles have been hard-won, the praise they give to God springing from grateful hearts. Their journey has been hard, but God has given them a greater grace for each step. Though much adversity, they have always pressed on for the glory of God. I am so proud of them, and I love them so much.
Thanks, Dad, for always being there. Thanks for making it easy to love my heavenly Father because of the example you set. Thank-you for living with integrity so that your family could wear a good name.
Thank-you, Juanita, for loving us unconditionally and for accepting us as your family.
Happy birthday, Dad. Your faith has made you both unstoppable.